by Ken Edwards
Brothers Michael and Joseph Goldwater (along with Michael’s son, Morris) rented the newly built Howey Hall on the southeast corner of Cortez and Goodwin streets to establish their first J. Goldwater & Bro. mercantile store in Prescott in late 1876. Within three years, they were prosperous enough to build their own store on the southeast corner of Cortez and Union streets less than a block away. In 1880, Michael and Joseph dissolved their nearly three decade partnership and the store was given a new name: Michael Goldwater and Son. The son, of course, was Morris.
Morris was not the only son of Mike that was associated with the Prescott store. At various times, brothers Henry, Baron, Sam and possibly Ben also worked for the enterprise although the latter two did not live here long. Both of them fell victim to tuberculosis after coming to Prescott for their health. Both died at relatively early ages, Sam at 41 and Ben at 33.
Henry had a very colorful career. He is best known for the so-called ‘Star Route Scandal’ which began when he was a 19-year-old assistant postmaster in Yuma in 1878. In those days much of the mail in the less populated areas was delivered by private contractors. Henry blew the whistle on several of these Star Route contractors who were collecting large funds from the government and failing to deliver the mail. It turned into a major scandal and eventually involved some important senators. The case eventually went to trial in 1882 but resulted in no convictions.
From Yuma, Henry came to Prescott and, in no particular order, married a school teacher, built a beautiful Victorian home on Union Street, joined his brothers as a partner in the Goldwater store and opened a cigar store on Whiskey Row. His wife, Julia, is historically important for raising money from the Andrew Carnegie organization in 1903 for Prescott’s first library. The Carnegie Library Building still stands across Gurley Street from the present Hassayampa Inn. Henry had lots of ideas that didn’t pan out and eventually moved to California.
Baron was the brother that worked most closely with Morris and the name of the store was changed to M. Goldwater and Bro. With the Prescott success, Baron strongly urged the family to again open a Goldwater store in Phoenix. He finally got the go-ahead in 1896. This time the venture was hugely successful. It was primarily a dry goods and ladies-wear enterprise and eventually expanded into several new locations. It was in Phoenix in 1909 that his son Barry was born. There’s no need to detail Barry’s political career here, but it should be noted that in many of his senatorial campaigns and his presidential run in 1964, he kicked off his campaign with a speech on the steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse. He had spent time here in Prescott with Uncle Morris during his growing-up years.
For more than 50 years, the Prescott Goldwater store prospered and Morris became a local celebrity of sorts. When the depression hit in 1929, many businesses encountered serious financial problems and the local Goldwater store was no exception. In January 1930, the store closed its doors.
Their building at Cortez and Union streets remained in the ownership of Morris Goldwater and a new tenant was found. After some remodeling, the building became a grocery store owned by Clarence Saunders. In earlier years, Saunders had founded the Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores which had innovative merchandising and were highly successful. Prior to the Piggly Wiggly chain, grocers would fetch items from the shelves for the customers. Saunders is considered to be the innovator of the modern self-serve grocery store. Each store was privately owned and was an early version of a franchise. Saunders got into financial trouble and lost his investment in the chain so he started out anew with a Clarence Saunders chain located in several western states. Alas, these stores also were victims of the Depression and the Prescott store was gone by 1933.
A new tenant was needed for the Goldwater building. Albert Stetson, one of the operators of the Studio Theatre in Phoenix, entered negotiations with Morris Goldwater in the summer of 1933 to convert the building into a Studio Theatre. At a cost of approximately $75,000, the building was remodeled and the new theatre had a seating capacity of 550. It opened on September 29, 1933. For a time the theatre was a direct competitor of the Elks Theatre on Gurley Street but the competition was eventually eliminated when the two theatres went into common management. The Studio Theatre prospered for a number of years but, in 1966, the building was declared unsafe and was closed down. The following year it was purchased by the county and was going to be demolished to make room for a parking lot. In 1978, the vacant building was sold at auction and acquired by First Baptist Church located in the same block. In spite of some community effort to save the historic structure, it was demolished in November 1978. The entry doors, however, were salvaged and now are used in the Transportation Building at Sharlot Hall Museum.
The Goldwaters were not finished with Prescott. In about 1937, they went back into business in the Otis building on the northeast corner of Cortez and Union streets across Union Street from their old building (which had been converted into the theatre). The new store was strictly a ready-made women’s clothing store and is the store that most of today’s Prescottonians remember. It continued in business until 1978, closing its doors on October 14 of that year.
Morris Goldwater lived in Prescott from 1876 until his death in 1939 at the age of 87. During that period, he rose to be arguably the most prominent and important man in town. In 1964, at the time of the Prescott Centennial, he was voted the city’s ‘Man of the Century.’ (His father, Michael, also served briefly as mayor.)
His accomplishments are impressive. In addition to operating one of the most important stores in town, he served as the city’s mayor for a total of 20 years (over a 48-year period, from 1879 to 1927). He was also a bank president (Commercial Trust and Savings Bank) for a number of years. He was an active Mason and the 1907 cornerstone on the Masonic Temple on Cortez Street honors his dedication to the order.
Among his many civic contributions were his membership in the Mechanics Hook and Ladder Team and later an organizer and member of the Dudes hose cart team. He was a supporter of cultural development in Prescott and served on the board of the Prescott Dramatic Society. He seemed to have unlimited energy and supported any worthy cause in town.
Politically, Morris was a Democrat. At the time of his arrival in Prescott, the Democratic Party was the prevailing party in Arizona. This, in fact, was problematic for John C. Fremont, a Republican, when he was appointed Arizona governor by President Hayes in 1878. (It is ironic that Morris served as political inspiration for his nephew, Barry who, as a Republican, became known as “Mister Conservative.”) In between his first two terms as mayor, Morris served for a time on the Prescott city council. He later served terms in both the territorial and state legislatures and was president of the state senate from 1914 to 1916. One of his most important contributions to state history was his service as vice-president of the Arizona Constitutional Convention in 1910. From 1890 to 1894, he served as a Yavapai County commissioner.
One of the biggest issues that Morris Goldwater worked on was getting adequate water and sewer systems in town. In Prescott’s early days, fires were fought by bucket brigades. In 1885, a water system with reservoir and fire hydrants was developed. However, in his inaugural address to the city council in 1895, Morris declared that “Our present water system….gives no water fit for a human being to drink…..and necessity only compels its use for bathing. At the time water is most needed, we have it not.” The latter statement was graphically demonstrated during the great fire of July 14, 1900 when most of downtown Prescott burned to the ground.
Not all went well during Goldwater mayoralties. In December 1926, petitions were circulated for his recall. The issue was the failure of the Prescott State Bank of which Morris was vice president and director. The city had deposits reported to be $100,000 in the bank and the bank had insurance of only $20,000. (This was in the days before FDIC.) Whether the recall election was actually held or not is uncertain but Goldwater and the city survived.
For most of his life, Morris was a bachelor. In Prescott he roomed at the home of John and Sarah Fisher on Cortez Street. When Mr. Fisher died in 1897, Morris continued to live there. Legend has it that at some point the city council passed a resolution stating that it was inappropriate for Morris and Sarah to be living in the same house without the benefit of marriage and that they darn well ought to get married or Morris should move out. Faced with these options, the couple ran off to Los Angeles and got hitched in September, 1906. Morris was 54 years old at the time. They continued to live in the house which is now the Hampton Funeral Home until Morris’s death in 1939. Morris is buried at the Masonic Cemetery in Prescott.
There are no longer any Goldwaters living in Prescott. Howey Hall is gone; on its site is City Hall. City Hall has a cornerstone stating that the building was dedicated by Senator Barry Goldwater in 1962. The Studio Theatre (nee Goldwater Building) once at the southeastern corner of Union and Cortez streets is gone. It is currently the area of the basketball court owned by First Baptist Church. The Otis Building still stands at the northeast corner of Union and Cortez streets and has had a number of different owners since the Goldwater days. In January of this year, workers removed an awning on the front of the Otis Building to reveal the old ‘Goldwaters’ name which appears to be the remainder of a neon sign.
Even with most remnants of their presence in Prescott gone, memories of the Goldwater family and their importance in Prescott history still linger in town. Interested in more on the Goldwaters? ‘The Goldwaters of Arizona’ by Dean Smith (1986) is recommended reading.
(The articles on the Goldwaters were written by Dr. Ken Edwards, a volunteer in the Sharlot Hall Museum archives, museum tour guide and a tour guide for the Chamber of Commerce.)